Pulling containment and derivation together – An experiment with Evernote

In The Original in Context, I examined how archivists place an original item in the context of a collection, using the 6 core elements of ISAD(G), noted in red below. Now I will use 2 more ISAD(G) elements (noted in blue below), linking to originals and copies, to record the relationships between original source items and copies or derivatives made from them that I discussed in How Many Copies?. For an adequate analysis of any source for genealogical purposes these 8 elements are the minimum set.

I have also added ISAD(G) element ‘System of Arrangement’ to link to the next lower level in the archival hierarchy (noted in blue). ISAD(G) assumes the reference code and level are sufficient to describe relationships between catalogue records and leaves implementation to the developer. I have used a non-standard element ‘Part of’ (noted in green) to implement linking the next highest level record in the archival hierarchy. The following 10 elements are used in an experimental Evernote implementation:

  1. Reference code
  2. Title
  3. Dates
  4. Level
  5. Extent & medium
  6. Creator
  7. Part of
  8. System of Arrangement
  9. Existence and location of originals
  10. Existence and location of copies

Staying with the Abinger baptism example, I created a set of linked notes as catalogue entries for a subset of the records identified in the earlier blog posts. In light of further analysis that benefitted from the insights of archivists at the Surrey History Centre and London Metropolitan Archives, whom I thank with gratitude, I have updated the diagram that explored the derivation of copies:

Derivaties of the Abinger Baptism - updated

Derivatives of the Abinger Baptism – updated.  Interactive version here

For the sake of brevity and clarity of concept, I have included just one of the derivation paths in the Evernote implementation.   Marked in blue above, I have included the original parish register, Bishop’s transcript, microfilm, digital image, Ancestry database, and copies I made:

Derivation path of Abinger baptism

Derivation path of Abinger baptism.  Interactive version here

The means of derivation, discussed in What is an Item, has been colour coded: green means an extract/abstract, red is a compilation that includes material from other collections, and blue or purple are my research copies.

Evernote Implementation

Evernote is popular and widely adopted by the genealogical community. The free version is accessible to all. As I want you to explore building you own catalogue of genealogical records, these are important considerations. Evernote was designed as an organisation tool, not a cataloguing system, so there are some drawbacks. I am not suggesting that is the ideal tool for the purpose of implementing an ISAD(G) compliant catalogue.

Archival cataloguing software, designed to implement archival standards, would be an ideal tool for testing my ideas. However, I have yet to find a consumer friendly version of archival software that is both freely available and requires little or no prior archival or information technology knowledge for use or installation.

Screenshot of shared Surrey History Centre Evernote notebook

Screenshot of shared Surrey History Centre Evernote notebook

This is how I built my catalogue using Evernote:

I created a notebook that documents repositories, and separate notebooks for each repository including my personal archive. I stacked the 6 notebooks to keep them together and made each notebook public so you can view or join them. For Evernote users joining the notebook makes it visible from your own account. If you join all of the notebooks, you will be able to see the whole catalogue. The notebooks are:

  • Repositories contains a note for each archive notebook with a listing of its contents.
  • Surrey History Centre contains a note for each level of the archive catalogue for the original Baptism Register, as discussed in The Original in Context.
  • London Metropolitan Archive contains a note for each level of the archive catalogue for the Bishop’s Transcript.
  • Family History Library, Salt Lake City contains a note for each level in the library catalogue for the microfilm of the Bishop’s Transcript.
  • Ancestry contains a hierarchy of notes for the digital image and database entry.
  • Sue’s archive contains notes for 3 copies I downloaded or otherwise copied.

Each notebook also contains a ‘Table of Contents’ note, which I used as a quick method of accessing the hyperlinks to each note. I used these hyperlinks to connect notes within a notebook, representing the archival hierarchy, and between notebooks, representing derivations from originals and intermediate forms. Please explore. Does this work for you?

Can ISAD(G) represent all of the source information genealogists need?

This experiment has been instructive and provided some insights. It does seem that all the information needed to describe the traditional archival hierarchy, treated as a series of containers, is covered in the experimental example. The information needed to describe derivation of copies, if restricted to just one final item, is also covered. If you were to add more items to this example, would you still be able to trace derivation? I think that may require a breadcrumb trail of links to be recorded for each item.

Differences in the views of archivists and genealogists have become starkly apparent to me. Archivists describe collections from a top down perspective, starting with an overview and working down to individual items, and emphasize original items. Genealogists encounter individual items, often as copies, and then work out how things fit together. Typically the researcher starts with a database or index search, then progresses to identify image copies, and then checking the authenticity of the image.

Please try this approach out for recording information about your sources. You can use tools other than Evernote, as that would make an interesting comparison.

© Sue Adams 2015


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